Golden Bears romp to 2nd straight North 2, Group I title
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Before the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I sectional cross country championships last Saturday at Greystone Park in Morris Plains, Lyndhurst High School head coach Michael Picardo thought that the Golden Bears had a solid chance to not only do well, but to dominate.
“I didn’t want to sound cocky, but I thought if we all brought our ‘A’ game, we were going to crush it,” Picardo said. “We ran lights out.”
Led by senior Stephen Covello, who finished second overall in 17:11.08, the Golden Bears had a parade of runners cross the finish line in succession.
Covello was second, followed by teammate William Hooper, then Dylan Stanco and finally Andre Francisco. One right after the other, second, third, fourth and fifth. All four runners are seniors, wanting to make sure that their final season is certainly a memorable one.
The dominating performance enabled the Golden Bears to secure their second straight state sectional title, easily outdistancing runner-up New Providence by almost 30 points.
Picardo said that the team followed the lead of Covello, who was nothing short of brilliant.
“Stephen is the heart and soul of this team,” Picardo said. “We were without him last year (because of a bout with mononucleosis). For him to come back this year and run this well, it’s amazing. He’s the focal point of this team. He personifies what cross country is all about. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s all heart and that’s what we are.”
Covello said that he didn’t pay attention to Jordan Price of New Providence, who won the race.
“I wasn’t really concerned about him,” Covello said. “I just had to get out and finish strong. I felt really good, so I decided to go for it. I just ran with the pack and we all pushed each other. I knew I had this in me. I just had to show it.”
Hooper was next, crossing the finish line in 17:14.40.
“I think running together was definitely the key,” Hooper said. “Everyone just got out so fast and we just stayed there. We kept telling each other that we had to stay in the group. It just all fell in line.”
Stanco was next, posting a time of 17:15.57.
“I never saw us run like that before,” Stanco said. “Just being together like that was incredible. I think we all ran 10 times faster because we ran as a team. It definitely means more to do it as a team.”
Francisco followed in fifth, finishing in 17:20.74. That’s four runners, all classmates, all teammates, all friends, finishing in a state sectional, one after another, in a span of just nine seconds. That’s it – just nine ticks apart.
“I think it shows how much we’ve bonded,” Francisco said. “The hard work finally paid off. It’s a great feeling, because it’s the first time in Lyndhurst High School history that a team won back-to-back state sectional championships. This was the hardest race ever.”
It was a tough race, because early on, both Hooper and Francisco slipped in the Greystone mud and fell.
“It meant more that we got up and finished,” Francisco said. “I tried hard to catch back up again.”
“I had no idea that they fell,” Picardo said. “They’re all heart and guts. Absolutely, we’re a team, first and foremost. We have a great pack of runners who stay together. Today was the best race our program has ever run. They bust their tails together. They’re lunch pail kids. They work hard and go to work. And they’re champions.”
The Golden Bears also received solid efforts from sophomore Xavier Locke, who was ninth overall in 17:42.07, junior Isaiah Aviles, who was 11th overall in 17:49.95 and junior Anthony Dell Aquila, who was 12th overall in 18:01.87.
“When I said I knew, I did,” Picardo said. “I knew what they were capable of.” It meant that all seven of the Golden Bears’ runners finished among the top 12 overall. Yes, that’s domination.
The Golden Bears now move on to the overall Group I state championships at Holmdel Park in Holmdel Saturday after; “Let’s see what happens there,” Picardo said.
The Lyndhurst girls finished fourth in North 2, Group I, led by Lindsary Cirne, who was 15th , and Alexis Gerbasio, who was 16th overall.